Where'd the paperless revolution go? Yesterday (This was written on Tuesday, so Monday) I was asked to FAX something. At some point I'll be at a point where I can choose to not do business with people because they use FAX machines, but until then, I need the money.
Offices around the country are still using paper. Paper schedules for their technicians (If you know me personally you know exactly who I'm talking about), Paper forms that people must journey across town to come to the secretary's desk to fill out to be admitted to the Doctor or sign up for a special program, and paper receipts for retail stores.
Being connected to the cloud (some hard drive somewhere) isn't all that it's cracked up to be, but it's not nearly as bad as paper. We're never going to fully transition, but there are a few things we could do to make office life easier, and CHEAPER!
Where'd it go? It was filed incorrectly. Well that could be the same as putting a digital document in the wrong file but what about online forms that keep a database. Simply put, it's just more accurate to have the document online. Mailing it in or delivering it in person is always much more risky.
How many steps does it take? I was going to post a video here, but I can't find it. Process improvement doesn't just "eliminate the paper" it eliminates several steps in a process. Time consuming process steps that cost money. Each time a piece of paper goes into a stack of other papers and waits, it creates a bottleneck. Digitizing processes and allowing ONE person to approve and ensure all the information is correct (with the aid of a computer system that gives you an error for an absent datapoint) eliminates the paper, and in effect eliminates a lot of the process bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
With Paper and manual entry No Cloud: Dorothy works in an office. People come to her and hand her paperwork to file. It gets put in a folder and then in a bin. Each form has it's own bin. She also gets items through the mail. So along with the 100 other things she's doing she's got to file this paperwork. If she doesn't get it, she may get blamed for losing it because it all passes through her desk. It waits on Dorothy's desk until she has time to type it into the excel spreadsheet or Microsoft Access database. She then sends the digital version of the paperwork to her boss Tim via email. Susan, who is tasked with sorting this data and filing registration paperwork for this event, needs to report how many people are going. Dorothy has missed 3 people, duplicated 5 entries and emailed Tim on Thursday evening but got another 7 applicants Friday when she was taking much needed PTO. Tim is in meetings all day. How does Susan get the number of people to report by friday at 3PM (The registration is on the East coast)?
She doesn't, she fails. This happens nonstop.
Paperless: Dorothy, the secretary answers the phones. She directs people to fill out the form online. The online form feeds into a database. If something is messed up, it's the client's fault, not Dorothy's typing and distractions. Tim sees that the list is building up nicely before his meeting, so he has something to report. Susan can access the database to get her accurate real time number and send her email. No paper was used, and the process worked.
How do you do it? How do you get to the point where you have a paperless solution to each of your problems?
- Stop making excuses and FOCUS ON IT - Each issue that you come across ask "Is it caused by paper? Can we eliminate paper and improve this process? Does someone hate doing this because of paper?"
- Make it a priority before it's too late - The registration starts next week, make a digital copy of your registration form on a form program or website TONIGHT!
- Don't give up - Nothing is born perfect, especially in an office. Someone may not like it at all - ask them what particular feature is giving them heartburn. Don't scrap it because Bill is oldschool and doesn't like it. (probably scrap him...)
- Get everyone involved - This should really be in between all of these numbers, but get everyone thinking of paperless improvement ideas. Teach them how to make a solution on their own and they'll just bring you stuff they made, like a cat bringing dead animals to your doorstep... maybe that's a bad example, but the more annoying it gets, the better you're doing at letting them create solutions.
- Don't stop - This is different than never give up. Giving up is focused on one project. Adjust that and move on, don't scrap it. This is really focusing on long term goals. Only stop when you don't work there (and then even good relationships should have been fostered and you should help each other...). Keep it going, even when everything's automated, go back and look at that first thing you and the team automated and see if there's improvements.
- If you feel like you don't have the time or manpower to do this stuff, you can always hire a professional consultant or freelance form guru (do those exist, they do now) and get them in there. It's worth the little bit of money to get you started down a road of saving some time.
This is Day 3 of #SayNo! week
If you'd like to see my other posts they're below